4 August, 2021

How the pandemic is changing the fashion and beauty industry

The coronavirus pandemic has impacted on our daily lives in ways which we could never have imagined a year ago.

Homeworking, homeschooling and shopping online have now become the norm and that has had a huge effect on the way we consume fashion and beauty.

The way we spend has changed dramatically.

Instead of floating around the shops during our lunch break, looking for something to wear for a night out, or going on a shopping spree with our partner or friends at the weekend, we browse online and buy our clothes and makeup while we are watching the TV, travelling into work, or even late at night when we can’t get to sleep.

But while our appetite for online shopping has increased, the transition hasn’t been an easy one.

Recent months have seen the mass disappearance of high street favourites such as Dorothy Perkins, Debenhams and selected John Lewis stores, with huge staff cuts.

There are more predicted too.

The British Fashion Council has said the industry will incur around 240,000 job losses as a result of the pandemic.

Shops have been closed for most of the year and a lack of events like concerts, festivals, and weddings – all things that create a need for clothes – has hit sales hard too.

It’s not that Covid-19 can kill consumerism.

In fact, online retail has seen an enormous upsurge in sales and the online fast-fashion industry has been thriving; it’s just that we are doing it differently.

Fashion businesses have reacted to the pandemic in a variety of ways, including changing their stock to reflect the way we now live.

That means more casual and loungewear and less dress-up and tailored looks.

A huge opportunity to rethink the industry has been a byproduct of the coronavirus pandemic and one way that is sure to continue beyond the current crisis is increasingly more ethical and sustainable ways to create apparel.

The industry was already addressing the damage being done to the environment (the fashion industry makes up 10 per cent of humanity’s carbon emissions as well as dries up water sources and pollutes waterways) but now, as we have had more time to reflect on our pre-pandemic clothes buying binges, it is the consumption of fashion that has come under the spotlight.

Around 35,000 tonnes of unwanted clothing are thrown away a year , with the average piece being worn eight times, and many of us are questioning whether we really need to shop in such a way.

We are also spending more time indoors, and suddenly buying lots of clothes doesn’t really seem that important.

What we may see because of the pandemic is a different mindset, where we value fewer but better quality clothes.

For example, instead of spending £70 on fast fashion we spend the same amount on good quality activewear that we will dress in day in, day out.

Recycling has become much more in focus during the pandemic too, with several retailers leading the charge by offering a resale facility of pre-owned garments on their own websites.

Clearly, reinvention and creativity are core to the industry and during this health crisis we’ve seen everything from virtual catwalks to immersive video campaigns as digital has become a means of bringing creativity to the fore.

Creativity also characterises the beauty industry which is an economic powerhouse  in the UK, generating a whopping £27 billion at the last count.

It ranks as the seventh largest cosmetics market in the world, and held the third spot in terms of largest markets operating in the UK in 2020.

However cosmetic sales have taken a plunge as high street shutdowns, coupled with the shift to homeworking, has prompted many people to ditch their makeup bags.

Sales of the designer brands that are the bread and butter of department stores were down by more than 40 per cent in 2020,  a decrease worth almost £500m.

Not going out, and wearing masks when we do venture outside, means we no longer need our warpaint and this has hit sales of cosmetics such as lipstick which is pretty ironic since the barometer of consumer confidence during periods of economic turmoil is referred to as the lipstick index.

It’s a term used by former Estée Lauder chairman Leonard Lauder in the early 2000s to refer to the fact that even during lean times, makeup is seen as an affordable luxury.

The good news for the industry is that we are now opting for a more natural beauty, one where the demand for quality skincare has increased.

We now want to splurge on creams and serums rather than foundation and contouring.

It’s not only makeup sales that have slumped.

If you factor in hairdressing and beauty treatments, which have also been hit hard by the fact people simply can’t go to their local salon because of lockdown, and it’s clear that the beauty industry has had its fair share of struggles.

However, as an industry it thrives on innovation and it is already rising to the challenges presented by the pandemic.

For example, you can now buy lipstick that won’t smudge under your mask and you can choose the one you want by uploading your photograph online and trying colours virtually.

Of course, it is not the same as testing it out at your local beauty counter, but it’s pretty good fun all the same.

Sure, we may be wearing masks that cover most of our face but that doesn’t mean we will all be going au naturel.

Recent figures show that 37.2 per cent of consumers purchased health and beauty products online in the past year and the health and beauty spend in the UK is forecast to rise by 8.8 per cent out to 2024, equating to an additional £2 billion.

We will continue to buy beauty, just in different ways.


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